Blind to their own sins

Peter
Peter Jackson
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

The news of Bishop Raymond Lahey and his laptop computer has been floating around for a month now, and reaction, while heated, has been largely predictable.

Lahey, who resigned his post as archbishop of Antigonish, N.S., shortly before being arrested on child pornography charges, was a former professor at Memorial University in St. John's, as well as a bishop on Newfoundland's west coast.

The news of Bishop Raymond Lahey and his laptop computer has been floating around for a month now, and reaction, while heated, has been largely predictable.

Lahey, who resigned his post as archbishop of Antigonish, N.S., shortly before being arrested on child pornography charges, was a former professor at Memorial University in St. John's, as well as a bishop on Newfoundland's west coast.

The Catholic Church expressed the usual dismay and sorrow over the news. If Lahey's sins had only been confined to the 1990s, when the extent of pedophilia among Catholic clergy was blown wide open, he could be seen as simply "one who got away." But the fact that he was apparently still indulging his unholy urges in 2009 makes one wonder whether the Catholic Church has really and truly "got it" yet.

Very little is added to the debate by lashing out against Catholicism as if it were some evil empire. There are those who see the church as a crumbling relic, and who take every chance to swing a sledgehammer at its weakened foundation. Such sentiments have been expressed by commentators in these pages, on websites and in broadcast media.

Neither is there any merit in tired rebuttals consisting of circular, fundamentalist arguments - "the Pope is right because God says so," and such. A recent letter published in The Telegram raised the preposterous notion of a grand resurgence of Catholicism complete with widespread conversion by Protestants. This is not a defence. It is a closing of one's ears and eyes.

What's needed is an honest, unhindered examination of the priesthood itself - its structure, its customs and its role in the community.

One of the most important questions to come out of the sex abuse scandal is whether the church should continue to demand that its priests remain celibate. It is a question the Vatican is unlikely to even consider anytime soon, but it has been raised nonetheless with increasing frequency.

But even without entertaining an end to celibate priesthood, it is long past time that the Vatican should examine the culture of priesthood and determine what measure must be taken to counter this epidemic of abuse.

And should one doubt it's an epidemic, the 2002 John Jay report found that since 1950, more than 95 per cent of dioceses in the U.S. had been affected in some way by child abuse cases. And considering the moral disgrace of such acts, it's disturbing that almost five per cent of American priests have found themselves entangled in such crimes over that span of time. One man who has studied the problem in some depth is American writer and historian Garry Wills. Wills, a confirmed Catholic, has written a number of books and articles on the matter.

In a 2002 discussion piece called "Scandal," in the New York Review of Books, Wills provides some telling insight into the minds of priests, and reveals why so many of them may be inclined to stray into such horrendous behaviours.

Many factors in a priest's life can lead to a distorted sense of self, and a perverted view of Christian morality.

Wills talks about the position of power that a priest is given, not just as an authority figure in general, but as a purveyor of God's magic. His fingers magically transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. A priest holds a special power over any boy in his charge (and the vast majority of abuse victims are boys). The priest alone is the holder of Christian truth and morality, and he alone knows what is right and wrong. So complete is this delusion that a handful of pedophile priests have felt perfectly consistent in providing counselling to the very boys they abuse.

Wills even refers to the potential "infantilization" of priests through their special ties with their mothers, who sometimes press (or are encouraged to press) their sons to become priests at an early age, and who may even imagine a sort of parallel between themselves and the Virgin Mary.

All this can lead to a potentially dangerous state of mind, Wills says.

"A man without a wife to puncture his pomposity, without children to challenge his authority, in relations carefully structured to make him continuously eminent, easily becomes convinced of his superior wisdom," he says. "Since many priests have been only sketchily educated outside their formal subjects, they feel that the source of their wisdom must be their supernatural powers, not their intellectual development."

Wills illustrates this utter detachment from societal norms by citing observations by former seminary rector Donald Cozzens, who investigated and counselled pedophile priests at the time of the U.S. scandal:

"I sensed little guilt for their seductions. The only regret I could identify was associated with their being caught. For the most part, the men I worked with were more concerned about themselves and their futures than for their victims."

It's time for the church to acknowledge this is not just a case of a few bad apples. The tree itself is rotten, and must be treated or destroyed.

Otherwise, the future of Catholicism is a little less bright than some letter-writers may like to think.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Catholic Church

Geographic location: Antigonish, St. John's, Newfoundland Vatican U.S.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Please stop using the term catholics to refer to members of the 'Roman Catholic' faith. There are many millions of Catholics who do not have any affiliation with Rome. The Orthodox and Anglican communions are two of the largest. I am a Catholic , but not a Roman Catholic. My priest is married.

  • DeeBee
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Hey! What happened to my comment?!? Did I say something offensive...? ;-)

  • Manuel
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Well I am surprised they even caught him. 11 months ago, myself and 35 members from my internet gaming community9ThePhReaKz.net) turned over to the police(RNC) 193 IP addresses of people offering child porn for downloading. Along with their IP address were the civic address and locations on the computers where the child porn is. 27 people from this province were offering child porn for downloading.
    After contacting the RNC I was told they are to busy to deal with that amount of stuff. Ive kept copies of the emails as well as copies of the phone calls placed to the RNC. I was also told by the RCMP that what i produced was to much for them to handle. Budget concerns i was told. Heaven forbid they dont get their lunchroom redecorated.
    After arguing with the RCMP and RNC and getting nowhere we contacted another member of my community who is a cop in Crotia. He had to take the info, get statements from us and forward it to US authorities who are currently investigating it with 43 arrests on our evidence.
    So why bother calling the local police about child porn idf they are to broke to deal with it.
    We have no stopped doing this either. It takes alot of time from all of us to track these people and to discover their dark secrets. So again why do we have a local sex crimes unit if they cant deal with sex crimes. Just as well to get rid of the sex crimes unit and get another robot for bombs.

  • Greg
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    What is critical in any examination of the priesthood is the participation of the laity.

    So far, that hasn't happened. The priesthood is attempting to heal itself; a risky proposition for any physician.

    In particular, survivors of sexual abuse by clergy should be part of the discussion. Unfortunately, the Church is so afraid of survivors and advocates that they really don't want to listen. They are a constant, living, reminder of the clergy's failures, and so are best put out of sight and out of mind.

    So long as the clergy clings to the attitude that we'll fix our own problems they'll keep their problems.

  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Wayne from Nfld writes: Please stop using the term catholics to refer to members of the 'Roman Catholic' faith. There are many millions of Catholics who do not have any affiliation with Rome. The Orthodox and Anglican communions are two of the largest. I am a Catholic , but not a Roman Catholic. My priest is married.

    Thank you for pointing that out Wayne. It is still possible to be Catholic without being Roman Catholic. There is a definate difference between Roman Catholic and Holy Catholic and the Telegram should recognize that.

  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Peter Jackson from The Telegram: Acceptible...yes. Proper...not overly. In a field of employment where you are employed for the sole purpose of splitting hairs, and being critical, one should take their own advice!

  • Brian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    EJ from NL hit the nail squarely on the head. Raymond Lahey is not a pedophile. He is an homosexual hebephile or ephobophile, which is an adult who is sexually attracted to post-pubescent young people. Allowing Raymond Lahey to marry isn't going to solve anything. He will still want to engage in sexual acts involving teenaged males.

    Oh, and by the by, the greek philosophical schools were full of Raymond Laheys.

  • EJ
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    I would argue that the RC church does realize that there is rot in the core. The problem is that it is not being addressed by many Bishops particularly in the US and Canada. What needs to be said is that nearly 90% of abuse in the US and Canada has been of boys aged 11-17. The abusers for the most part have been homosexual men preying on young men. The Vatican conducted a special investigation of US seminaries a couple of years ago and found that many of the seminaries were rife with homosexual behaviour. As a result the Vatican has attempted to curtail men with homosexual tendencies from entering the seminary. The abusing priests have felt little guilt for their seductions because they have twisted the Church's teaching to suit their lifestyle. Does Bishop Lahey fear hell. Probably not. Look at the actions of Archbishop Weakland in the US who was trumpted as a wonderful progressive shepherd until it was found out he used diocese funds to pay off a seminarian with whom he had a homosexual affair with.
    Finally before anyone starts screaming homophobe, look at the facts of the abuse and that my former roomate was gay and I had no problem with him. A spade is a spade.

  • Michael
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Half the membership of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) are female.

    This is not just about homosexual clergy. This is about the abuse of power by priests.

    In my area, the most notorious case was a priest abusing young girls at the Catholic school run by Nuns, and the Nuns turning a blind eye to the whole thing.

  • The Atheist
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    The only difference is big 'C' Catholic and small 'c' catholic but they share a common believe in myths.

  • EJ
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Jay from NL
    Homosexuality does NOT equal pedophelia. The two are very different Exactly my point, that's why one needs to look at the facts. Nearly 90% of the abuse cases in the RC Church were against teenaged (over age 11) boys and young men. The majority of the problem in the RC Church has not been pedophelia but the predatory behaviour of homosexual priests on teenaged boys. The Church in North America has been very hesitant to condemn that fact.

  • EJ
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Dee, clinically pedophilia involves the abuse of pre-pubescent children. 16 or 17 is not a grey area . If a man rapes a 16 year-old girl it is not pedophilia. Clearly, based upon statistics of clerical abuse the issue has not been pedophilia as 90% of cases have involved young men post-puberty. I am not confusing pedophilia with homosexuality. The problem is that the public is confused to think that the RC Church is facing a pedophile problem when the statistics clearly show it is a problem with homosexual predators. Let me clarify this is not an attack on homosexuals. There are heterosexual predators who in my eyes are no better.

  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Just because CP says it's acceptable does not make it so. The term Catholic when used to mean Roman Catholic is simply incorrect. It is demeaning to persons who are not Roman Catholics. Even worse is the term non-Catholics when used to refer to persons who are not Roman Catholics but who may belong to a faith that is just as Catholic and Apostolic as the church of Rome.

    The sex scandals in this piece refer to the Roman Catholic faith.....my faith has to deal with enough of its own problems...without adding those of others to the list.

  • Ed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Being a Catholic I found this writers column very interesting,I will be forwarding it to some of my friends who are of the same faith, Thank you Peter.

  • Dee
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Thank you Jay - Homosexuality does NOT equate to pedophelia.

    There is sometimes a grey line when it comes to youths of 16, or 17, however I think it is pretty clear that the abuse in question is indeed with exploiting children and that is pedophelia.

    Might I suggest that it is not the fact that these priests are not married but that perhaps the idea of joining such a powerful order looks as a bit of a haven for these devients. The fact that they get away with this behaviour encourages more devients.

    In any case the Roman Catholics need to come up with a better way of choosing their priests and monitoring them or there will be very few of their flock left. Each time another priest is exposed folks are loosing more and more faith in the RC church.

  • Jay
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    EJ: Homosexuality does NOT equate to pedophelia. The two are very different.

    Peter Jackson: ''The Tely is right cause CP says so''? CP is hardly infallible, and in this case, is inaccurate.

  • Peter
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    TO WAYNE ET AL.
    Besides missing or ignoring the point, you are splitting hairs about the Catholic distinction. Catholic Church (capitalized), is acceptable Canadian Press style when referring to the Roman Catholic Church. The context is blatantly obvious in this case. And there are Anglicans (including myself) and others at The Telegram who are perfectly aware that catholicism is not exclusive to the Catholic Church.

  • Leah
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    There is no excuse or reason whatsoever for the horrendous, sick actions of these priests/bisops/archbishops/brothers, except that they are perverted. Marriage or having a family is not going to help. It's young boys that are the victims. If they had an affair with a female adult, you could see some reason in that. Wills, and others, should have put his/their time and efforts into trying to help the victims, not looking for excuses for the abusers.
    AND WHAT DOES GOD THING ?

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Please stop using the term catholics to refer to members of the 'Roman Catholic' faith. There are many millions of Catholics who do not have any affiliation with Rome. The Orthodox and Anglican communions are two of the largest. I am a Catholic , but not a Roman Catholic. My priest is married.

  • DeeBee
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Hey! What happened to my comment?!? Did I say something offensive...? ;-)

  • Manuel
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Well I am surprised they even caught him. 11 months ago, myself and 35 members from my internet gaming community9ThePhReaKz.net) turned over to the police(RNC) 193 IP addresses of people offering child porn for downloading. Along with their IP address were the civic address and locations on the computers where the child porn is. 27 people from this province were offering child porn for downloading.
    After contacting the RNC I was told they are to busy to deal with that amount of stuff. Ive kept copies of the emails as well as copies of the phone calls placed to the RNC. I was also told by the RCMP that what i produced was to much for them to handle. Budget concerns i was told. Heaven forbid they dont get their lunchroom redecorated.
    After arguing with the RCMP and RNC and getting nowhere we contacted another member of my community who is a cop in Crotia. He had to take the info, get statements from us and forward it to US authorities who are currently investigating it with 43 arrests on our evidence.
    So why bother calling the local police about child porn idf they are to broke to deal with it.
    We have no stopped doing this either. It takes alot of time from all of us to track these people and to discover their dark secrets. So again why do we have a local sex crimes unit if they cant deal with sex crimes. Just as well to get rid of the sex crimes unit and get another robot for bombs.

  • Greg
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    What is critical in any examination of the priesthood is the participation of the laity.

    So far, that hasn't happened. The priesthood is attempting to heal itself; a risky proposition for any physician.

    In particular, survivors of sexual abuse by clergy should be part of the discussion. Unfortunately, the Church is so afraid of survivors and advocates that they really don't want to listen. They are a constant, living, reminder of the clergy's failures, and so are best put out of sight and out of mind.

    So long as the clergy clings to the attitude that we'll fix our own problems they'll keep their problems.

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Wayne from Nfld writes: Please stop using the term catholics to refer to members of the 'Roman Catholic' faith. There are many millions of Catholics who do not have any affiliation with Rome. The Orthodox and Anglican communions are two of the largest. I am a Catholic , but not a Roman Catholic. My priest is married.

    Thank you for pointing that out Wayne. It is still possible to be Catholic without being Roman Catholic. There is a definate difference between Roman Catholic and Holy Catholic and the Telegram should recognize that.

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Peter Jackson from The Telegram: Acceptible...yes. Proper...not overly. In a field of employment where you are employed for the sole purpose of splitting hairs, and being critical, one should take their own advice!

  • Brian
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    EJ from NL hit the nail squarely on the head. Raymond Lahey is not a pedophile. He is an homosexual hebephile or ephobophile, which is an adult who is sexually attracted to post-pubescent young people. Allowing Raymond Lahey to marry isn't going to solve anything. He will still want to engage in sexual acts involving teenaged males.

    Oh, and by the by, the greek philosophical schools were full of Raymond Laheys.

  • EJ
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    I would argue that the RC church does realize that there is rot in the core. The problem is that it is not being addressed by many Bishops particularly in the US and Canada. What needs to be said is that nearly 90% of abuse in the US and Canada has been of boys aged 11-17. The abusers for the most part have been homosexual men preying on young men. The Vatican conducted a special investigation of US seminaries a couple of years ago and found that many of the seminaries were rife with homosexual behaviour. As a result the Vatican has attempted to curtail men with homosexual tendencies from entering the seminary. The abusing priests have felt little guilt for their seductions because they have twisted the Church's teaching to suit their lifestyle. Does Bishop Lahey fear hell. Probably not. Look at the actions of Archbishop Weakland in the US who was trumpted as a wonderful progressive shepherd until it was found out he used diocese funds to pay off a seminarian with whom he had a homosexual affair with.
    Finally before anyone starts screaming homophobe, look at the facts of the abuse and that my former roomate was gay and I had no problem with him. A spade is a spade.

  • Michael
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Half the membership of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) are female.

    This is not just about homosexual clergy. This is about the abuse of power by priests.

    In my area, the most notorious case was a priest abusing young girls at the Catholic school run by Nuns, and the Nuns turning a blind eye to the whole thing.

  • The Atheist
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    The only difference is big 'C' Catholic and small 'c' catholic but they share a common believe in myths.

  • EJ
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Jay from NL
    Homosexuality does NOT equal pedophelia. The two are very different Exactly my point, that's why one needs to look at the facts. Nearly 90% of the abuse cases in the RC Church were against teenaged (over age 11) boys and young men. The majority of the problem in the RC Church has not been pedophelia but the predatory behaviour of homosexual priests on teenaged boys. The Church in North America has been very hesitant to condemn that fact.

  • EJ
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Dee, clinically pedophilia involves the abuse of pre-pubescent children. 16 or 17 is not a grey area . If a man rapes a 16 year-old girl it is not pedophilia. Clearly, based upon statistics of clerical abuse the issue has not been pedophilia as 90% of cases have involved young men post-puberty. I am not confusing pedophilia with homosexuality. The problem is that the public is confused to think that the RC Church is facing a pedophile problem when the statistics clearly show it is a problem with homosexual predators. Let me clarify this is not an attack on homosexuals. There are heterosexual predators who in my eyes are no better.

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Just because CP says it's acceptable does not make it so. The term Catholic when used to mean Roman Catholic is simply incorrect. It is demeaning to persons who are not Roman Catholics. Even worse is the term non-Catholics when used to refer to persons who are not Roman Catholics but who may belong to a faith that is just as Catholic and Apostolic as the church of Rome.

    The sex scandals in this piece refer to the Roman Catholic faith.....my faith has to deal with enough of its own problems...without adding those of others to the list.

  • Ed
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Being a Catholic I found this writers column very interesting,I will be forwarding it to some of my friends who are of the same faith, Thank you Peter.

  • Dee
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Thank you Jay - Homosexuality does NOT equate to pedophelia.

    There is sometimes a grey line when it comes to youths of 16, or 17, however I think it is pretty clear that the abuse in question is indeed with exploiting children and that is pedophelia.

    Might I suggest that it is not the fact that these priests are not married but that perhaps the idea of joining such a powerful order looks as a bit of a haven for these devients. The fact that they get away with this behaviour encourages more devients.

    In any case the Roman Catholics need to come up with a better way of choosing their priests and monitoring them or there will be very few of their flock left. Each time another priest is exposed folks are loosing more and more faith in the RC church.

  • Jay
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    EJ: Homosexuality does NOT equate to pedophelia. The two are very different.

    Peter Jackson: ''The Tely is right cause CP says so''? CP is hardly infallible, and in this case, is inaccurate.

  • Peter
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    TO WAYNE ET AL.
    Besides missing or ignoring the point, you are splitting hairs about the Catholic distinction. Catholic Church (capitalized), is acceptable Canadian Press style when referring to the Roman Catholic Church. The context is blatantly obvious in this case. And there are Anglicans (including myself) and others at The Telegram who are perfectly aware that catholicism is not exclusive to the Catholic Church.

  • Leah
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    There is no excuse or reason whatsoever for the horrendous, sick actions of these priests/bisops/archbishops/brothers, except that they are perverted. Marriage or having a family is not going to help. It's young boys that are the victims. If they had an affair with a female adult, you could see some reason in that. Wills, and others, should have put his/their time and efforts into trying to help the victims, not looking for excuses for the abusers.
    AND WHAT DOES GOD THING ?